It’s 2017 and despite the massive advances in technology, I still don’t know anyone who operates a paperless office.

One of the main challenges my clients report is how to deal with the paper clutter in their office. Often they have piles of papers stacked up on any available surface and can’t see the wood for the trees (or the important document for a client for the bank statements, junk mail…).

Having piles of paper around your office can

  • Contribute to feelings of stress and anxiety.
  • Lead you to overlook something important.
  • Make you less efficient – you waste time looking for things, moving stacks of paper from one place to another, or printing off things you have already printed.

Dealing with paper clutter can help you to

  • Clear your desk
  • Clear your mind
  • Improve your business

Reduce what makes it into your office

The first step to reducing your paper clutter is to reduce what you bring in.

If you have stacks of paper clutter already: Go through stacks of papers and recycle/shred what you can – be ruthless but be responsible with personal and sensitive data.

Going forward:

  1. Don’t pick it up – ask yourself, “Will I use this?”
  2. Use online services where you feel comfortable – eg invoice electronically, pay bills online, turn off paper bank/utilities statements, have your insurance documents emailed to you (this can save you money as some companies now charge to provide hard copies).
  3. Don’t print – ask yourself, “Do I need to print this?” (eg emails, hotel bookings, event tickets…)
  4. Open your mail next to the recycling bin/shredding pile and get rid of unwanted paper straight away.
  5. Scan documents you might need in future rather than storing the hard copy.

A place for everything else

It is key that you have a simple, straightforward system in place to store your papers. When you have a piece of paper in your hand you need to know where to put it. Either deal with it straight away or put it in a holding place to deal with it at a later time. This is really important and can really make a difference. Think about the papers you have and how best to organise them.

An example:

  • In-tray – everything that comes in to your office goes here first, to be sorted at some point
  • Actions – Things you need to do
  • Outbox – Things someone else needs to do (for you to delegate)
  • Post
  • Recycling – non-confidential
  • Shredding – confidential/sensitive/personal data
  • Filing pile tray – to be scanned/filed/stored with other resources


  1. HMRC advises that companies must keep financial records for six years.
  2. Shred personal/sensitive data (see the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) for advice on personal data and your responsibilities under the Data Protection Act)
  3. Don’t be too ruthless – keep originals of important documents (e.g company registration documents, paper driving licence…)
  4. If it will take you less than two minutes to deal with a piece of paper, do it now.
  5. Handle papers the least amount of times possible (don’t keep moving the same piece of paper around your office!)
  6. Create an efficient system that works for you.
  7. Schedule regular times to deal with regular tasks e.g every day, mornings, a set day a week.

I presented this at Zokit Vale on 19 January 2017. Copies of my supporting material can be accessed here:

Sarah Jones  has run Smart Desk Business Services, a freelance administration service, for four years.